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Web Summit: Data Invaders

Amongst the superstar “disrupters” of the tech world are names like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Less a superstar and more “dark matter,” because of his lower profile, is Paddy Cosgrove, founder of the successful Web Summits, the latest of which was held in Lisbon in November.


Web Summit, that Paddy Cosgrove founded in 2009, has been described by Inc Magazine as “… the largest technology conference in the world”. Forbes says Web Summit is “the best tech conference on the planet”, Bloomberg calls it “Davos for geeks”, Politico “the Olympics of tech”, and the Guardian “Glastonbury for geeks”. Despite media accolades Web Summit receives, neither Web Summit nor Paddy Cosgrove are household names -  except in his native Ireland. While the 70,469 attendees from 163 countries at the 2019 Web Summit in Lisbon aspire to be “disrupters, Paddy Cosgrove has achieved as much, not only through the success of Web Summit, but because of his profile at home organizing a voter enrolment campaign and questioning Ireland’s benign tax regime for multinationals, while himself benefitting from a tax shelter in the US.


Disrupter in chief?


Stellar speakers from the EU, Huawei, Google and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair at the 2019 event were outshone by Edward Snowden. Snowden shot to fame whistleblowing on the US and UK governments routine spying on their citizens. In his address Snowden insisted all browsers and service providers are institutions of power that people should not trust. He concluded, "It is not data that is being exploited, it is people that are being exploited." He added that while EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) are a good regulatory start, they should be about data collection, rather than protection. Tony Blair conceded that while Internet companies have delivered real progress: “Technology has concentrated power in the hands of a relatively small number of companies that all too often wield it clumsily and without sufficient legitimacy.” Another whistleblower to speak at the Web Summit was Brittany Kaiser. The former employee at the discredited data company, Cambridge Analytica, argued that improving digital literacy is key to protecting your online data from exploitation.

“It is not data that is being exploited, it is people that are being exploited.” Surveillance whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

Alpha, beta, good, better


While Web Summit, like similar conferences, is a networking fest and talking shop, its real work lay in connecting the 2,150 start-up tech businesses at alpha, beta and growth stages of development with the 1,221 investors seeking opportunities. A big winner in Lisbon was a Basel-based start-up, Nutrix, developer of a cheaper and less intrusive sensor allowing diabetics to monitor glucose levels in their saliva. The company received €1.16 million of funding. Another tech highlight was the launch of the Autonomous Drivers Alliance created to establish international standards monitoring the artificial intelligence software that drives autonomous vehicles. The Alliance believes these “AI Drivers” should be held to the same legal standards as human drivers.

Photo : 

Maria Hahn, CEO of Nutrix
Paddy Cosgrave and António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal. 

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